The pandemic disrupted trade to an extraordinary degree

From “Logjam at Sea as Virus Roils Global Trade” (New York Times):

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Lars Mikael Jensen, head of Global Ocean Network at A.P. Moller-Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company. “All the links in the supply chain are stretched. The ships, the trucks, the warehouses.”

Economies around the globe are absorbing the ripple effects of the disruption on the seas. Higher costs for transporting American grain and soybeans across the Pacific threaten to increase food prices in Asia.

Empty containers are piled up at ports in Australia and New Zealand; containers are scarce at India’s port of Kolkata, forcing makers of electronics parts to truck their wares more than 1,000 miles west to the port of Mumbai, where the supply is better.

[…]

Viewed broadly, the volume of global trade dipped by only 1 percent in 2020 compared with the previous year. But that doesn’t reflect how the year unfolded — with a plunge of more than 12 percent in April and May, followed by an equally dramatic reversal. The system could not adjust, leaving containers in the wrong places, and pushing shipping prices to extraordinary heights.

Peter Baum’s company in New York, Baum-Essex, uses factories in China and Southeast Asia to make umbrellas for Costco, cotton bags for Walmart and ceramics for Bed Bath & Beyond. Six months ago, he was paying about $2,500 to ship a 40-foot container to California.

“We just paid $6,000 to $7,000,” he said. “This is the highest freight rate that I have seen in 45 years in the business.”

PP prices jump because of unprecented shortages

From PP prices take record leap (Plastics News):

Polypropylene resin prices took what may be a record jump in February, catapulting up by 34 cents per pound in North America.

That increase comes on top of PP prices already up a combined 27 cents in December and January. 

The PP market is facing unprecedented shortages. Supplies already were tight before extreme cold, ice and snow hit Texas, including the Gulf Coast region that is home to many resin plants.

“We’re hearing that some of these [PP] plants [expected to] be up and running by the end of [February], but some of these shortages could last another two months,” said Marc Fern, executive vice president with resin distributor M. Holland Co. in Northbrook, Ill.

A surge of inbound shipping containers, no boom for exports

From U.S. Imports at Full Speed Show Uneven Global Recovery Pace (Bloomberg):

A surge of imports into the U.S. economy shows little sign of slowing down, clogging American ports and highlighting ways the pandemic is still causing imbalances in the global recovery.

Consider the number of inbound shipping containers through the 10 largest U.S. ports. They rose 12.5% in January from a year earlier after a 23% surge a month earlier and a 25% jump in November, according to data compiled by John McCown, an industry veteran and founder of Blue Alpha Capital.

But American exports have seen no such boom: The volume of outbound containers fell 7.6% in January from a year ago, the 12th straight drop. […]

It doesn’t appear to be abating either, with ocean-bound cargo still pouring into the U.S., even during the typically slower weeks after the Lunar New Year holiday in Asia.

According to a tally released Monday by Hapag-Lloyd AG, Germany’s biggest shipping line, a total of 60 container carriers were anchored outside the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland in California, and Savannah, Georgia, on the East Coast — little changed from the backlog at those four gateways two weeks ago.

Many Gulf Coast resin makers assessing their ability to restart production

From Cold snap, tight supplies send commodity resin prices up in February (Plastics News):

Beginning Feb. 15, cold weather hit Texas, including its Gulf Coast, where much U.S. resin production is located. Plants were closed in advance of the cold snap, but some operations may have been damaged as freezing temperatures caused pipes to expand.

As of Feb. 25, many commodity resin makers on the Gulf Coast still were assessing their ability to restart production. Commodity resin markets — especially polyethylene, polypropylene and PVC — already were tight before the cold snap and have been further tightened by the outages.

Plastics News this week is showing price increases for PE, suspension PVC, solid polystyrene and PET bottle resin that have taken effect since Feb. 1. PP prices for February remain unsettled, but are expected to be up at least 28 cents per pound, based on settlements for polymer-grade propylene feedstock.

Regional PP prices already had been up a combined 27 cents in December and January. These major spikes already had led some processors to issue price surcharges on PP finished products.

Regional prices for all grades of PE resin are up an average of 7 cents per pound since Feb. 1, following 5-cent hikes in both December and January. Those hikes were caused by strong demand – especially in products sold to grocery stores – and unplanned outages at some production sites.

The electric boat market is growing

From A new generation of electric motorboats take to the water (The Economist):

A number of manufacturers are vying to become the marine equivalent of Tesla […]

Rand, a Danish firm, has developed a range of traditional-looking electric motorboats. Zin Boats, a Seattle-based company, has two electric models, a tender and a five-seater speedboat. For more leisurely cruising, Serenity Yachts, a Cayman Islands boat-builder, offers a 19.4-metre hybrid with 30 solar panels on the roof. In electric mode the panels will power the craft along at a steady pace provided, of course, the sun is shining.

Candela, a Swedish company, is taking a different approach. Its six-seater Candela Seven (pictured) uses hydrofoils to raise its hull completely out of the water. This reduces friction, says Gustav Hasselskog, Candela’s founder. That, in turn, cuts energy use by around 80%, which should help reassure any skippers with range anxiety.

Congestion bedeviling ports from Los Angeles to Savannah, Georgia

From Seattle Ports Offer Relief for L.A. Bottlenecks (SupplyChainBrain):

The wait to enter the nation’s biggest complex — L.A.-Long Beach — stands at eight days, about triple the average delay in November.

The bottlenecks are the confluence of surging imports, sick longshoremen, COVID-19 workplace limitations, and trucker and equipment shortages. All surely to be complicated by a new menace: harsh winter weather that’s grinding an inland transportation system connected by trucks and trains to a halt.

The White House plan to subsidize manufacturing

From In public and private, Biden and his advisers have signaled some dramatic interventions to revive U.S. manufacturing. Will they actually happen? (NY Times)

Wind-turbine manufacturers, whose supply chain goes through Europe, Asia and Canada, are seeking tax breaks for domestic production. So is the solar industry, which currently imports most of its assembled panels from Malaysia and Vietnam. The semiconductor industry has lobbied for tens of billions of dollars to upgrade production facilities and build new ones, on the grounds that semiconductors are a foundational technology — sort of like mechanically engineered stem cells that power everything from 5G mobile networks to autonomous vehicles and the internet of things. John Neuffer, the chief executive of the Semiconductor Industry Association, says supply shortages during the pandemic have focused minds in Washington on the importance of domestic production. 

Many of these proposals — and dozens more, like money to manufacture medical equipment, to buy e-scooters and other “micromobility” vehicles, to build “smart” pavement that can digitally connect cars to roads — made cameo appearances in Biden’s campaign, and the administration has expressed interest in pursuing them.

Deese, who has been overseeing Biden’s economic plans, told me that the priority when it comes to industrial support will be those areas where subsidies can encourage companies to spend money on factories and technology in the near term that they might not otherwise spend for years — “pulling forward” their investments, as he puts it.

Rodrik, the Harvard economist who is sympathetic to industrial policy, says the practice should really be seen as a way to ensure that American companies continue to innovate, more than as a means of vastly increasing employment. But Deese argues that the transition to a cleaner economy — installing solar panels, plugging abandoned oil wells, retrofitting buildings to make them more efficient — will generate lots of new jobs, even if manufacturing equipment doesn’t produce as many as desired. And he adds that we shouldn’t underestimate the job-creation potential of new equipment either.

As a rough model, he points to a Senate bill, based partly on the U.A.W. electric-vehicles paper, that would spend some $400 billion over a decade on cash rebates for consumers who buy U.S.-assembled electric or hybrid cars. The bill, proposed by Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, would also spend close to $50 billion funding the construction of charging stations nationally and provide nearly $20 billion in subsidies to help manufacturers build new plants and upgrade existing ones. “It’s the basic theory of the case,” Deese says. “Significant consumer incentives coupled with retooling for factories and a build-out of infrastructure.” The deal for manufacturers would become still more compelling with regulations mandating lower vehicle emissions and a commitment by the government to buy clean energy and clean equipment — a process Biden initiated with an executive order he signed in late January.

Tank Holding acquires Spin Products

From Tank Holding continues platform expansion with Spin Products purchase (Plastics News)

North America’s largest rotational molding company, Tank Holding Corp., has purchased Chino, Calif.-based rotational molder Spin Products Inc. This follows their acquisition of Dura-Cast Products announced last week and Rotational Molding Inc. announced in January.

“Spin and their valued long term customer relationships compliments our growth strategy both in our core and adjacent markets, including expansion of our custom molding division,” said Greg Wade, CEO of Tank Holding.

Owned by private equity firm Olympus Partners, Tank Holding includes the brands of Norwesco, Snyder Industries, Bonar Plastics, Bushman, Chem-tainer, Meese, Snyder Industries, Stratis Pallets, RMI and Dura-Cast.

Plastics News reports on January resin prices

From Price hikes bring resin buyers a less than happy new year in January (Plastics News):

Plastics News

“North American polypropylene prices surged an average of 13 cents per pound in January, after jumping 14 cents in December. That two-month total of 27 cents in increases has led some processors to issue price surcharges on PP-finished products.

“Regional polyethylene prices moved up an average of 5 cents per pound in January after also moving up by 5 in December. The surprising hikes were caused by strong demand — especially in products sold to grocery stores — and unplanned outages at some production sites, according to RTI PE market analyst Mike Burns.”

Fed/OSHA issues new COVID-19 guidance

Federal OSHA guidance issued at the end of January is intended for most workplaces “outside of health care” and includes an outline for a 16 element COVID-19 Prevention Program as well as “additional detail on key measures for limiting the spread.”  While this step is merely guidance, nothing prevents Fed/OSHA from using it as a basis for a citation.

This article offers a concise breakdown of the 16 elements.

Here are the details from OSHA.